“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment,
our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be
filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
There were times in my life that coming out of the starting blocks in that frame of mind and body on a frigid winter day could have led to a serious bout of doom and gloom. Dark mood and dark thoughts could have wrapped themselves around one another and held one another tightly for days at at time.
This morning, like most mornings now, I brushed my teeth, did a couple of slow stretches, then staggered over to the zafu -- and Sat. Within moments, it was different.
There in my little corner of the world, floating on the Breath of Practice, I watched as the ripples of thought, feeling and bodily sensations dissipated into the distance across the surface of a clear, calm pool of bright, spacious energy. Sitting still, no longer grasping or pushing away, I became both the pool and the ripples.
By the time I arose an hour later, I felt just fine. Energized, I even bundled up and headed out for a brief walk before heating up the coffee pot and making breakfast.
I like it when that happens.
I have begun most every day with a period of meditation for a long time now. Although there are
sometimes days that the momentum of a mind filled with a daunting things to do list may propel me out the door without meditating, but these days the commitment to a public noontime meditation vigil or a mindfulness circle generally assures me that I will spend time each day in formal meditation. (Committing to sit with others can be really helpful to support one's Practice.)
I feel grateful that, more and more, it seems that my time off the zafu is imbued with what psychologist and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach calls Natural Presence as well. More than anything, I think that the establishment of a regular Morning Practice is responsible for my increasing ability to sense the Infinite Sacredness of each moment -- and to respond appropriately more often than not to the events of everyday life.
This didn't happen without Commitment, Effort -- and Grace! (I didn't create the One Love. It just Is!)
I would say that 90% of the folks who have wandered into one of the Mindfulness Circles I facilitate have already tried mediation. Comparing notes on Practice, most of those folks have expressed that there was an obvious improvement in the quality of their consciousness --and in their lives -- during the times that they practiced, but they had been unable to maintain a regular daily practice.
The inability to maintain a daily practice is, I think, quite widespread. It's fun to see a newcomer to the Circle mention, often somewhat sheepishly, that they hadn't been successful in establishing and sustaining a daily practice, to discover when I ask for a show of hands, that everyone there has had -- or continues to have -- that same experience.
It only stands to reason. The entire thrust of our social conditioning operates against sitting still in silence. Taking the time to notice what is actually going on in our mind and heart in the present moment isn't widely supported. Creatures of habit, we are individually and collectively awash in habitual patterns of noise, stimulation, and activity, often feeling stressed and fatigued. Sometimes aware of a subtle, or not so subtle, discontent with ourselves and our lives, we race on yearning for it to be different.
The Good News is that it can.
More than anything, the establishment of a regular daily meditation practice may be the key to making the difference. At this stage of the journey, I've learned that there are three things that seem to have helped me and others to bring this about. Perhaps, they can help you as well.
1. Setting Your Intention
Rather than approaching a commitment to daily practice as another "should", take the time to get in touch with your motivations, the reasons you wish to make the commitment. Even if we are simply choosing to meditate to be free of stress and suffering, that impetus is emerging from your Heart of Hearts, that space within and beyond you that is fundamentally benevolent. From that (I call it the One Love these days), emerges the deep human aspiration to be peaceful, kind, compassionate and clear-minded. However you choose to conceptualize that wish to be truly loving, bring that into your awareness each morning as you arise as a prayer, a stated intention, a vow. It is helpful to remind yourself. Write it down. Post a version is some form so that you will see it "first thing", next to your clock radio, bathroom mirror, etc. As Practice develops the specific focus and wording may change as your perceptions widen and shift.
2. Setting Your Attitude
Whatever specific meditative technique you are working with at the moment, stay in touch with your capacity to be accepting and forgiving. There is no "right" experience in mediation, no "bad" session. Aligning ourselves with the qualities of an Open Heart, through Practice we are cultivating Unconditional Friendliness toward ourselves and others by being Present and Accepting. Simply being aware of our experience without judging it, we are gently and diligently cultivating an Open Heart and Clear Mind. Even being open and accepting to how and when we are not open and accepting is the edge of Practice, where the real healing takes place.
3. Creating the Container in Time and Space
Bringing your intention into the material plane is extremely helpful. Create a special place in your home for mediation, preferably a space that is quiet and out the way. If at all possible leave your cushion or chair in position. Many people find that creating an altar helps. Having been influenced by Soto Zen, I sit with eyes open and downcast facing the wall with the altar to my side. (Admittedly I do "cheat" sometimes as songbirds alight in the tree outside the window. LOL) The objects on my altar are either gifts or natural items of I've gathered that remind me of Love, the Beauty of Creation, and Spirit.
Meditating first thing in the morning is often recommended. I've found that meditating early, before you and others are swept up into the busyness of the day is quite helpful. Putting "first things first", melding intention and action at the beginning of the day can be especially powerful and help launch you into a day in the proper frame of mind. Set a specific time for the duration of the session and use a timer if you have one. (Digital clocks, on-line timers, iPhone apps, etc., are widely available.) Tying your mind up in deciding when enough is enough or even watching the clock can be distracting. Although 20 minutes is a widely proclaimed minimum, in the beginning even allocating 5 or 10 minutes will be productive and establish a foundation to build on.
It is also extremely helpful to begin taking "mini-meditations" during the course of the day. This can be as simple as remembering to open each door you pass through mindfully: being aware of your breathing, the motion of your body, the touch of the doorknob, the feel of surface under your feet. You could set specific times at your desk to just pause to become aware of your posture and the next three breaths. For some, necessary daily activities such as walking the dog or washing the dishes can be perfect opportunities to be mindful, to simply notice the nature of your own experience in each particular moment during that activity.
Above all, remember that it is all Practice. It is common to set ourselves up for continued failure by experiencing a missed meditation session as a failure. If you miss a morning session, just begin again
the next morning! (Of course, you do get extra points for remembering a mini-meditation that day. LOL)
The bottom line?
I feel blessed these days that as each morning begins, I find myself taking a few steps across my bedroom to my little corner of the world to Sit Still for an hour. It's become a habit. Each morning, aspiration, intention, attitude and activity merge into One on that zafu. It's made a tremendous difference.
Establishing a regular daily meditation didn't happen overnight. I had to begin anew any number of times. Yet, at this stage stage of the Journey, I can say with confidence: At a certain point, it Happens! I know it can be done.
It just takes Practice.